Getting started with XLSForm

Last updated: 19 Feb 2022

This article will show you how to:

  • Set up an XLSForm using Microsoft Excel.

  • Upload and preview the XLSForm in KoboToolbox.

  • Download a form you have been creating using the KoboToolbox formbuilder as an XLSForm.

When building forms for KoboToolbox, there are two main methods you can use. One is by using the KoboToolbox formbuilder, and the other is using XLSForm.

XLSForm is a standard for creating forms in Microsoft Excel and makes it possible to create basic and advanced forms in a user-friendly format.

There are a number of XLSForm features that are not yet supported by the formbuilder and therefore a knowledge of XLSForm can be important for more complex forms.

What is XLSForm

An XLSForm is simply an Excel file structured in a standardized format that can be uploaded to KoboToolbox to generate a data collection form.

Not only does using XLSForm offer enhanced functionalities, but it can also make collaborating on form building easier in some case. For example, members of your team can work on building the form in Google Sheets, allowing for real time collaboration.

How to set up XLSForm

To get started with XLSForm, do the following:

  1. Create a workbook (either in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets).

  2. Create three worksheets: survey, choices, and settings respectively (sheet names must all be in lowercase).

  3. In the survey worksheet, create three columns with headings: type, name, and label.

  4. In the choices worksheet, create three columns with headings: list_name, name, label.

  5. In the settings worksheet, create a column named form_title (the settings sheet is optional)

Adding questions

Questions in XLSForm go in the survey sheet. We will practice adding a few questions: What is your name, Sex and How old are you?

  1. In the survey sheet, under the type column, type “text”. This is the question type for our first question. To learn more about question types in XLSForm, read this article.

  2. Under the name column, type “yourname”. This will be the variable name of our first question. The variable name uniquely identifies each question in the form. It’s also the name of the question in the database when we start collecting data. Each question must have a unique name and cannot contain spaces or symbols (except the underscore).

  3. Under the label column, type “What is your name”. This label will be shown as the question text on the form when we collect data.

For our second question:

  1. Still in the survey sheet, type select_one gender in the type column below the previous question (make sure to put a space between the 2 words). select_one is the question type that allows us to specify a list of choices where a user will only be allowed to pick one choice. (If a user can select several choices, this would be specified by the select_multiple question type.) “sex” is the name of the list of choices which we have to define in the choices sheet.

  2. Type the name and label of the question as “sex” and “Sex” respectively.

Add the final question as follows:






How old are you?

Adding choices

Regardless of the type of multiple choice question (select_one or select_multiple), the next step will be to define the list of choices in the choices sheet. Each list of choices must have the same list_name.

Since we defined one question that has a list of choices (“sex”) in the previous step, we need to add this list in the choices sheet as follows:

  1. Switch to the choices sheet so that you can add your list of choices for the “Sex” question.

  2. In the cell below list_name, type “sex”. This is the list name we defined for the “Sex” question in the survey sheet. In the cell below name, type “male”. This is the value that will be stored when the user chooses the option “Male”. Under label, type “Male”. This is what will be shown for this option in the survey.

  3. For the second choice, type “sex” as list_name, “female” as the name, and “Female” as the label.

Adding settings

It is not mandatory to include the settings sheet in the XLSForm - any form will work just fine without it. However, at minimum, you can define the form_title.

Without the form_title in the settings sheet, KoboToolbox will, by default, use the file name as the name of the project when you import the XLSForm.

Below the form_title column, type “Practice form” as the title of the form we are creating in this article.

Uploading and previewing the XLSForm in KoboToolbox

Once you have finished creating the XLSForm you must upload it to KoboToolbox in order to preview it.

  1. While you are on the Project List view (the first screen after you have just logged in to KoboToolbox), click NEW.

  2. Click Upload an XLSForm (if you were creating the form using Google Sheets, you can either download the file as an Excel file, or follow the instructions in the linked article to import it via a URL).

  3. Choose the Excel file you just created and wait until it uploads.

  4. Confirm the project details and click CREATE PROJECT.

  5. You can then click the Preview form button to preview your form.

Downloading an XLSForm from KoboToolbox

KoboToolbox allows you to download a form you have been creating using the formbuilder as an XLSForm file. This might be useful for several reasons such as:

  • You need to add some advanced features that are not yet supported in the formbuilder.

  • You would like to make changes to the form that might be easier through XLSForm (such as quickly duplicating a large number of questions).

  • Your computer resources such as your browser or internet connection.

  • You would like to collaborate on the form with members of your team and you prefer sharing the XLSForm.

  • Manage versioning of your form outside of the KoboToolbox platform.

  • You are needing assistance from the support team and need to share your form with us.

To download the XLSForm while you are on the Project List view:

  1. Hover your mouse over the name of the project.

  2. Click the More actions icon.

  3. Click Download XLS.

  4. Save the file.

Replacing a form with an XLSForm file

You can replace an existing form with a new version using an XLSForm (for example, after having edited the form in Excel). To do this while you are on the Project List view:

  1. Hover your mouse over the name of the project.

  2. Click the More actions icon.

  3. Click Replace form.

  4. Choose the file.

More XLSForm learning resources

Go to the following links to learn more about XLSForm: